Computational Biology Program
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York
November 24, 2015
Metabolic cooperation among tumor cells
The prevailing paradigm is that cancer cells are primarily competing against each other. However, cooperation is a common feature observed at all levels of biological organization. Low nutrient levels and accumulation of toxic metabolic waste products make the tumor microenvironment hostile to most cells, which should favor cooperation. I will show experimental data that shows that these cells indeed need to cooperate in order to thrive under these adverse conditions. A central observation in our data is that sparse tumor cells populations are more susceptible to nutrient starvation and will go extinct unless they reach a critical density level. Among ecologists, the increased likelihood of extinction in sparse populations is known as the Allee effect and it is a clear indication of cooperative growth. I am currently setting the experimental bases of this system, to be able to produce accurate and predictive mathematical models of tumor growth that will consider cell density-dependent effects, such as the Allee effect and quorum sensing.